David van Goorle

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Gorlaeus Building, Leiden University

David van Goorle (also known under his Latinized name David Gorlaeus) (15 January 1591, Utrecht - 21 April 1612, Cornjum)[1] was a Dutch theologian, and in the seventeenth century one of the first early modern atomists.[2][3]

Van Goorle was born as the son of a Protestant refugee from Antwerp, who at the time was treasurer for the Count of Moers. His mother was a Frisian noblewoman, the daughter of Doeke van Martena, a freedom fighter and an admiral. Although he called himself Ultrajectinus after his birthplace Utrecht, he grew up with his maternal grandparents in their stins in the Frisian village of Cornjum. In 1606 he enrolled as a student in arts at the University of Franeker.[1] From April 1611, Van Goorle studied theology at the University of Leiden, and expressed his theories regarding the theories of atoms in his Ideae Physicae, in which he disputes the theories of Aristotle and claims that there is something as a "smallest, undevidable, particle".

For the early seventeenth century these were revolutionary thoughts, and hence Van Goorle is regarded as one of the founders of the particle-atom theory, together with Daniel Sennert and Pierre Gassendi, to name just a few. He died at the very early age of 21; on his tombstone in the church of Cornjum he is mourned as an "erudite and very intelligent young man". His larger work, Exercitationes philosophicae, was only printed posthumously in 1620. It is thought that especially this last work has influenced Henricus Regius and Descartes.[1]

The University of Leiden has named the Gorlaeus Laboratoria after Van Goorle,[4] in which the both education is given to students in chemical studies and chemical research is performed.


  1. ^ a b c Lüthy, Christoph David Gorlaeus atomism, or: The marriage of Protestant metaphysics with Italian natural philosophy. In Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories, John Emery Murdoch, William Royall Newman, eds., pp 245-290.
  2. ^ Summary of research after David van Goorle on the KNAW-website
  3. ^ Prof.Ivor Leclerc mentions Van Goorle as one of the early atomists
  4. ^ description of the Gorlaeus Laboratoria by the University Facultary Bureau


  • David Gorlaeus, Exercitationes philosophicae, Leiden 1620.
  • David Gorlaeus, Idea physica, Utrecht 1651.
  • Christoph Lūthy, David Gorlaeus (1591-1612). An Enigmatic Figure in the History of Philosophy and Science, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012.

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